In May, Economist researchers surveyed 255 U.S.-based executives across a spectrum of industries whose firms had employee wellness programs. They also surveyed 630 employees from companies with the programs.
More than half (56%) of the executives queried were senior human resources directors. The remainder were managers engaged in HR activities, including 14% who were employee benefits or wellness program managers. Most of the employees surveyed held white collar jobs for firms with 1,000 or more workers.
A little more than half (53%) of survey respondents said their organizations collect health-related employee data as part of their wellness programs. But of those who did, 88% reported the data they use is health plans' claims data, while “only a minority of employers use their own proprietary data from fitness (31%) or health improvement services (30%).”
Only about one in four employers use data from employees' own mobile apps or wellness devices.
Meanwhile, a majority of employees surveyed (64%) said they use these devices, the survey shows, while nearly one in five (19%) use the devices regularly. Survey results also suggest “that if employers built device usage into their wellness programs, employees would use them more often.”
When asked about obstacles to participation in wellness programs, both employers and employees recognized privacy issues as significant barriers, with 43% of employers and 27% of employees indicating that “employees are concerned that personal information will not remain confidential.” Only time constraints, cited by 43% of employers and 41% of employees, ranked as high or higher as a barrier.
One-third (33%) of surveyed employees said they chose not to participate in a wellness program. Non-participants indicated they did not because they “don't trust the employer's motives,” (11%); or they were concerned their personal information might be used to “reduce my healthcare benefits” (15%); or “negatively affect my employment,” (16%); or because it “will not remain confidential,” (27%).
Similar levels of privacy concerns were expressed for employees who said they participate in an employer program “but not actively.”
Such fears could be greatly assuaged by transparency and trust building, the research found.
More than half (56%) of employees indicated they'd share data with a third party “if there were credible guarantees of confidentiality,” and 66% would share data with their employers “provided that they received assurances that it would be used only for their benefit.”
The key, according to Tim O'Neil, manager of employee health and financial wellness at Meredith Corporation, a media company, who was quoted in the report, is to be “open and honest with employees and families about what the goals are, how the program works and what's in it for them.”
“Trust will grow over time,” said O'Neil, whose firm's wellness program has achieved a 98% employee participation rate, the report said.
Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn